This isn’t really a book review, because book reviews involve, you know, reviewing the book. This is more just me sharing the thoughts I’ve had while reading a book. So, here goes.

Years ago I read a book called Do You Believe in Magic?, by Paul Offit. I rarely remember the books I read, at least the first time. (Pros: I can reread a book and be surprised again! Cons: Forgetting what I’ve read.) But I haven’t forgotten Do You Believe in Magic? because it was compelling.

In it, Offit evaluated alternative medicines and supplements, basically debunking almost everything. A few supplements — folic acid for pregnant mothers, iron for the iron deficient, vitamin D — have strong clinical evidence supporting their efficacy. But most at best do nothing, and at worst can harm the patient.

Thus far, nothing surprised me. I have strong opinions about alternative medicine, and up to that point the book aligned with what I expected.

Then it took a completely unexpected turn: Instead of saying people should avoid supplements, Offit acknowledged the usefulness of harmless supplements that worked as a placebo. If a person takes a supplement to relieve pain and really experiences pain relief thanks to the placebo effect, why stop them from taking it?

This blew my mind. It totally made sense: Why argue whether a supplement or alternative medicine treatment “works” if it accomplishes the goal of the treatment? Pain relief is a great example: Isn’t it better for someone to take something harmless that just passes through their body with no real effect than to become addicted to pain medications? If the harmless substance solves the problem, yeah, of course you go for it.

Of course, the huge caveat is that these placebo treatments can’t replace true medical care. Placebos don’t cure cancer, manage diabetes, or have the ability to replace traditional medicine. But they can, indeed, supplement in helpful ways.

Like I said: Mind. Blown.

So on the Port Townsend drive, Teresa mentioned reading a Paul Offit book, and the name rang a bell. Honestly that’s pretty unusual, too — I never remember authors, rarely remember titles, and occasionally remember plots. In any case, I remembered Offit and Do You Believe in Magic?, and it inspired me to pick up more of his books from the library.

This time I’m reading Bad Faith, a book about people whose religious beliefs stop them from seeking medical treatment. Typically they believe that prayer and faith will heal them, although I learned that Christian Scientists think none of this is real anyway and thus they can just think their way out of disease. If only!

Anyway, usually the case goes like this: Child comes down with bacterial pneumonia, or meningitis, or cancer, or is unvaccinated and contracts a childhood illness like measles. The parents choose to pray for healing rather than seeking medical treatment.

I have some pretty strong opinions about faith healing, even for adults. This book has just strengthened those opinions, but I’m not going there right now. (In an earlier draft, I wrote a ton about it, this post got too long and angry, and I’ve just deleted all of it.) Instead, here’s my unorganized impressions:

  • I cannot imagine watching my child in extreme suffering — dying — and not doing everything under the sun to relieve his pain. How any parent could say “It’s God’s will” that a child die of a readily treatable bacterial infection, for example, completely exceeds my imagination. A parent’s first and primary responsibility is to keep their child healthy. Praying for healing while eschewing and even at times ardently fighting conventional medical treatment is utterly counter to this responsibility, in my mind. Many of the parents cited say their child’s immortal soul was in danger from medicine, but how about if we let God take care of that while we parents take care of the physical body?
  • How do we, as a society, countenance this? We don’t allow parents to abuse their children; how is it that just because parents say they hold certain religious beliefs, they’re allowed to let their children die? What if my religion told me to beat kids, or practice pedophilia? Would that make it acceptable under the law? No! Yet all the laws to protect children provide exceptions for sincerely held religious beliefs. I just find this reprehensible.

I guess I don’t have that many thoughts at all. Because really, it just boils down to: It’s wrong to let parents get away with subjecting their children to needless suffering and death. Done.

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